I'm on a family vacation in Florida, about as far away from Southern Georgia as you can get culturally. But I just finished Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray.
"Cracker Childhood" was one of the first books I read when I moved to Asheville. It has nothing to do with the mountains but it was about the South and I was devouring anything. I reread it to study how a serious memoir can be a popular book.
Ray talks about her poor, religious childhood but she also has serious discussions about the environment of the coastal plains. Every other chapter is about loss of some kind - longleaf pines, red-cockaded woodpeckers, wiregrass, bachman sparrow ... Loggers took out as many longleaf pines as they could and upset the balance of nature, all dependent on longleaf pines.
She describes her background as coming from Oglethorpe's debtor prison folks. I sat up and took notice. A few days ago, I didn't even know about that history. But now that I visited Fort Frederica, I knew what she was talking about.
There's nature everywhere, even on Miami Beach. Now residents and visitors may not notice the natural environment but it's there.
I took a walk on the beach today. People were sunning themselves, playing frisbee, strolling and of course, playing on their phones. A few hardy ones were in the water. Were they paying attention to the environment around them?
There were terns and gulls dive bombing on the beach. Sandpipers ran like wind-up toys. A few pigeons added to the mix. And the pelicans. Nothing says South Florida to me like pelicans.
Pelicans don't worry about people. They hang around the fishing pier, waiting to steal fish from fishermen. They fly around boats going deep-sea fishing, also looking for loot. And all of this is happening around a beach lined with high-rise co-ops.
Even Bal Harbor, the fancy shopping center in North Miami Beach, has "nature". It has several fish ponds with koi fish and turtles. People stare in the pond. trying to figure out if the turtles are real. They're real!
Florence Preserve in Hickory Nut Gorge has had a new trailhead for a few months now. I finally got to rehike my loop in Hiking North Carolina's Blue Ridge Heritage because the book will be reprinted next spring. That was motivation to get down there.
The new trailhead is about a mile south of Kelly Hill Rd. I drove down, down, down, knowing full well that I'm going to have to get back up. The trailhead is very nice, at a chimney on the left side of the road. See above.
There's parking for several cars. There's even two sets of stone steps which lead up to the chimney but no indication about the origin of the chimney.
The trail starts left of the chimney, as you face it. It's well signposted with yellow diamonds and white circles - no relation to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
The new trail is steep; it just goes straight up. I'm concerned that it will discourage marginal hikers who don't want to put out the effort to climb.
It's a short climb, a very short climb, but it starts at the beginning of the trail. As soon as the trail moderates, it passes an old cabin. After less than a half-mile, the yellow trail intersects the blue trail. If you make a right turn, you'll be back on the loop.
The new trailhead and trail were needed because Kelly Hill Rd. is a private road. Residents didn't want people driving or even walking up the road. So Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy which owns the land came up with this alternate route.
The new route (or should I say, current route) adds more than 500 feet of ascent and about 0.8 mile to the hike. Still a great, short hike.
Today we went to the Columbus Zoo. It may not be the biggest or the best zoo in the country but it's done very well.
My granddaughters got to feel a snake, look at a variety of fish close and personal.
They saw crocodiles, alligators and even a kiwi in the nocturnal section. And they got to feed lorikeets, an Australian parrot.
Where could they do this in the wild? Even if they went all around the world and found these animals, there's no way they could get that close. Will they say "So what. It's better at the zoo."
The conventional answer is that they will appreciate nature more if they are familiar with animals from a zoo or even a nature program but I wonder.
Sometimes I wonder if people are really concerned about the environment or if it's just hype and Ashevillians. Maybe not even Ashevillians.
Consider two cases.
Today I drove from home to New Bern, stopping at Moores Creek National Battlefield, a subject for another day. It's a long drive. I travel with a hot cup and a water bottle. My route took me to South Carolina where I stopped at a McDonald for coffee.
I handed my red hot cup to a sales assistant and asked for decaf. He proceeded to put the coffee into a disposable cup and said that I should pour it into my cup myself.
"But wait," I said. "Just give me the coffee into my mug and save a disposable cup."
"I can't do that," he said.
"Why not? Is it a McDonald policy?
"No,"he said. "Health department."
What!! I know it's not true in North Carolina because I get at Starbucks and local coffee shops with my mug all the time. They encourage it. On my way home, I'm going to stop in a NC McDonald and test it out.
Exhibit #2. Yesterday I took a good travel backpack back to REI.
"The pack is great," I said "but a buckle broke. Could you replace the buckle?"
After a lot of trying and looking, the clerk at REI could not find the same buckle. An 80 cent item but they couldn't replace it.
"You can return the pack," he said "and we'll give you a new one."
"A new pack for a broken buckle? It doesn't make sense."
So I took the pack home and I'm going to try to do without that particular buckle.
Sometimes I wonder if anyone really cares or thinks about the trash we're generating for no reason at all.
Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy is proud to announce that a new trailhead for the Florence Nature Preserve is now open to the public. Located directly on Highway 74A, the new trailhead offers convenient and scenic public access to the Florence Nature Preserve and the developing Hickory Nut Gorge Trail System.
The Florence Nature Preserve, owned by CMLC and located in Gerton, is a special treasure in the upper Hickory Nut Gorge. The 600-acre property was donated to CMLC in two phases (1996 and 2001) by Dr. Tom and Glenna Florence.
The new trailhead is now the only point of public access to the Preserve. When preparing for your trip to the Preserve, please plan on using this access because Kelly Hill Road and the trailheads off of it (red and blue) are now closed.
Located approximately 0.9 miles east of the Hickory Nut Gorge Community Center and Nita and Susan's Hickory Creek Market, the new trailhead allows for more vehicle parking and provides a much more scenic route of entry into the Preserve.
Look at the map for more information
The status of Dupont Forest is in question.
This beautiful forest between Brevard and Hendersonville will probably be transferred to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. And that could mean fewer opportunities for biking, hiking, and horseback riding and open the forest to more logging.
The entire Division of Forest Resources, including DuPont, will almost certainly be transferred to the Department of Agricultural & Consumer Services on July 1, according to the House budget adopted May 4 by a veto-proof majority. Forest Resources has mandates to prevent forest fires, conserve natural resources, and manage timber — but none for recreation. Compare what it's like to hike in Pisgah Forest vs. Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
But it's not all clear cut, if you'll excuse the pun.
Right now, Dupont Forest is open to multiple-use recreation such as hunting, fishing, mountain biking and horseback riding.
Over the past 10 years, the Division of Forest Resources was a part of the larger Department of Environment & Natural Resources (DENR), the folks who run the state park system. Several years ago, a proposal was floating around that would make Dupont Forest a state park. It was opposed by many groups because that would eliminate the little hunting that there was in Dupont. The state park would also bow under pressure to build roads to waterfalls that we now hike to.
The four past presidents of Friends of DuPont Forest, have come together to make a simple proposal: We hereby request that the N.C. General Assembly statutorily recognize recreation as a primary mission of DuPont, together with the protection of its natural resources.
They propose making Dupont a recreational Forest. See their website and contact your North Carolina state legislature.
Well, the vacation is over. Back to a sad reality of the state of conservation funding in North Carolina.
This below has been swirling all over the North Carolina Conservation Circles. I adapted this plea from Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy.
The budget writers in the North Carolina House of Representatives released their first recommendations yesterday afternoon. Under their plan, conservation funding - already slashed by 50 percent in recent years - would take another huge hit. The Clean Water Management Trust Fund was singled out for a cut of 80 percent.
These proposed, draconian cuts would have a long-term, disastrous impact on conservation and the essential support it provides to North Carolina's economic health.
Please email your legislators TODAY and urge them to support restoring funding for conservation.
Numerous conservation projects in Western North Carolina -- from public lands at Chimney Rock State Park and DuPont State Forest to natural areas such mountain bog sites and habitat for native plants and animals -- have been made possible by these conservation trust funds.
Please use the link to Land for Tomorrow to quickly and easily communicate with your state legislators.
The General Assembly is moving quickly to formulate its budget. We need to create an immediate groundswell of opposition to these misguided bills.
The budget process isn't over. Legislators can reject these ill-advised, damaging proposals.
Click HERE to email your legislators today and tell them to keep funding for conservation in the state budget. Or better write a letter and put a stamp on it.
Kate Dixon, Executive Director of Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, planned to hike with me for five days.
But in the middle of our plans, Land for Tomorrow scheduled a Lobbying Day. What could I do but go back to Raleigh with Kate? I was eager to see how this is done.
Land for Tomorrow is a coalition of environmental and conservation groups in North Carolina that lobby for fully funding all the conservation trust funds. These include the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Natural Heritage Trust
Fund, the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and the Agricultural Development and
Farmland Preservation Trust. The people who showed up were experienced lobbyists from The Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, various conservation groups from all over the state like Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy.
We got briefed by Debbie Crane, who works for The Nature Conservancy. The whole purpose of the day was to meet with various legislators besides our own. We were supposed to explain why conservation funding was important and helped the economy. For example,
Every dollar spent on conservation returns four dollars in the economy. Pretty good investment.
The "ask" was $50 million dollars for Clean Water and $2 million for Farmland Preservation. Two millions? That's nothing.
Still when we went to the legislators on our list, most of them moaned and groaned about the economy. "We're trying to balance the budget". But the whole conservation budget is 0.25 % of the economy. I think I have the decimal point in the right place. So they should not balance the budget by cutting out conservation funding.
Kate did most of the talking. She introduced me as a "hiker", who was hiking the trail. But most legislators were not available, even some with appointments with us. So we wrote hand-written notes saying we had stopped by. We also did a lot of waiting and talking to their assistants. We even had to wait for their assistants.
One exception was Susan Fisher, my state representative. She knew she had an appointment with us; she was on time, cheerful and very knowledgeable. She seemed interested in my MST hike. I was impressed.
A fun diversion from a busy day was an ice cream social. They had invited Maple View Farm to serve ice cream at lunch time.
Even though my feet got a rest, it was an exhausting day. We drove back to Wilson, eager for another day on the MST.
I'm moving ever eastward on my Mountains-to-Sea Trail hike and I'm now finely attuned to beach and coastal concerns.
Here's a new expression - at least for me. Terminal groins. It sounds positively painful or gross but it's not.
Terminal groins are structures that are perpendicular to the beach. They're designed to slow the rapid fluctuations of inlet shorelines.
North Carolina Conservation Network explains the issue.
Last week, after only 15 minutes of debate, the state Senate approved a bill that would allow hardened structures on our coastline. This is not good for our beaches and it will cost the North Carolina taxpayer a pretty penny.
A decades old ban on hardened structures on our coast has enabled North Carolina's beaches to remain healthy and natural. Weakening this ban commits taxpayers to a never-ending and escalating fight against the sea.
While hardened structures may capture sand directly in front of beach mansions, they also accelerate erosion further down the beach. Once one is in place, a domino effect will likely occur as our coastline is gobbled away by these structures.
The North Carolina legislature is considering spending this money as it proposes that our state parks close two days a week. Does that make sense?
In our current budget crisis, when our legislators are considering deep cuts across the board, how do legislators explain to their constituents that they are extending a multi-million dollar bailout to wealthy beachfront homeowners?
Yesterday, I led a hike in Montreat Wilderness.
OK, so it's not really very wild but it has 2,500 acres set aside in perpetuity for hiking and exploration. Though Montreat Conference Center is private, it allows the public to visit and hike on their land.
Our first destination was Lookout Rock - see me in the top picture.
It was a good climb from Lake Susan and the group wandered all over the rocks, admiring the views and taking pictures from its edge. They were being edgy.
That is the original and true meaning of the word, edgy.
On the edge doesn't mean being nude, using four letter words or getting high. On the edge means walking on a narrow precipice or cliff. I don't have fear of heights but I have to use all my concentration to negotiate this edge until the trail widens. That is risk taking behavior, not getting drunk or sitting at home smoking or inhaling some chemical.
The media has taken the word edgy and coopted it to mean outrageous, but physically very safe, behavior. Most people don't behave outrageously. They are content to sit on their couches, eating chips and dips and watch others having behave ridiculously.
Cooking shows are now using edgy chefs. As people cook less and less, they watch more cooking shows, not realizing that all the food is prepared ahead of time.
For most walkers, including the two other people on Lookout Rock, this is the extent of their Montreat hike. But we continued on the E. Ridge Trail and Mt. Mitchell Trail to Pot Cove Gap. After lunch, we went down to the Trestle Trail and walked on the new Greybeard Trail. The switchbacks on the new trail have been beautifully graded. For that, we have the Montreat trail crew to thank.
We had wonderful views of the mountains and crossed a minor waterfall. To my surprise, we saw three young men on dirt bikes come roaring on the trail - illegally, of course. They may have thought they were edgy but they couldn't cross the small waterfall that we had crossed handily, so they turned around as soon as they could maneuver their bikes.
Below is a picture of our Carolina Mountain Club group - none under 50 and some much, much older.
I'd love to take some of these passive folks, teens and adults, alike who watch edgy reality shows and take them on a short hike, just to Lookout Rock.
Almost all would be able to get to the rock eventually. But would they enjoy it? Would they be willing to go on to a full-day hike? Or would they want to go back to their edgy show?
For all outdoor people - hikers, climbers, mountain bikers and others, I reclaim the word edgy. Let's climb a mountain and walk on its edge.
Land for Tomorrow has sent out this action alert.
Urge NC legislators to maintain current funding levels for the conservation trust funds.
The state’s four conservation trust funds are at serious risk in current budget discussions at the General Assembly. These trust funds (Clean Water Management, NC Natural Heritage Trust Fund, Parks and Recreation and Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation) have preserved hundreds of thousands of acres of family farms, forests, stream banks, game lands, parks, greenways and scenic vistas.
If these trust funds seem very theoretical to you, note that these cuts include the NC Parks that administer our beloved state parks.
State conservation funding has already been reduced by almost 50 percent.
Key legislators are considering zeroing out funding for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund (CWMTF) and the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund (ADFPTF). Now is not the time for further reductions. We need to keep the conservation momentum going. Please contact your legislators today and urge them to maintain current funding levels for CWMTF and ADFPTF.
You can go to their action page and fill in their form. But a well-written letter in the mail is taken much more seriously.
On Thursday, February 3, the North Carolina Senate took its first vote on fast-moving legislation that would gut two conservation trust funds. Senate Bill 13 would take $1.8 million from the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund and $8.5 million from the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund.
The Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) provides dollar-for-dollar matching grants to local governments for parks and recreational projects to serve the public.
This legislation is moving quickly, so write your Representative and Senator today and ask them to oppose Senate Bill 13.
The legislation is part of an effort to shift money from this year's state budget into the next fiscal year. Legislators are facing a $3.7 billion budget shortfall for the next fiscal year, and are looking for ways to reduce the size of that shortfall.
Taking money from the state's conservation trust funds is the wrong way to close that gap. These trust funds leverage local dollars, protect farms and create jobs.
For more details, see Land for Tomorrow. The website can help you figure out who your representatives are, based on your zip code.
Every once in a while, I need to remind myself to look beyond the mountains of Western North Carolina. I live in the state of North Carolina and I try to keep up a little about the outdoor issues outside the mountains.
Two items are worthy of your time.
Land for Tomorrow is organizing North Carolina's first summit on the economics of conservation. It will be held on
February 23, 2011 from 11:30 am – 4:00 p.m at the
Raleigh Convention Center. Here's what they say about the importance of this topic.
Land and water conservation has created significant economic benefits in local communities, across the state and around the country. Join Land for Tomorrow to hear conservation challenges and success stories from key leaders in economic development, government, business and the military. A new economic impact study by the Trust for Public Land will be unveiled that will, for the first time, quantify the state’s return on its investments in conservation.
All the details are on the Land for Tomorrow website.
The second item is a report entitled Unfulfilled Promise
The Million Acres Initiative and the Need to
Protect North Carolina’s Open Spaces.
To summarize the executive summary: North Carolina’s
General Assembly established the Million Acre Initiative to protect one million acres of land between January 1, 1999 and December 31, 2009. While many important and beautiful places were protected in the process, it is now clear that North Carolina has fallen short of this goal.
Read the report's executive summary, at least. It's an eye opener.
Of course, the best way of discovering North Carolina beyond the mountains is to walk the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. I'll be doing another section real soon.
Yesterday (Sunday), I hiked up to Little Pisgah mountain in Hickory Nut Gorge.
We started in Florence Preserve, a small jewel of conservancy land, donated by the Florence family in the 1990s. We followed the blue trail to the top of the preserve and then hiked on Little Pisgah Road. It's a quiet, dirt road, though yesterday, it had snow and ice as well.
As we climbed, views opened up, the kind you rarely see in our mountains. It felt more like England, except for the long range views of the Blue Ridge.
We reached the top of the mountain at 4,500 feet. It was very windy and most of us tried to huddle under a large rock. This is not pristine wilderness. The reason for the road is a communications tower on top.
Lunch on top was a hurried affair. By the time, I got to the top, took a few pictures and pulled out my sandwich, Janet, our leader, started heading down. Janet took this picture on the left of some of the group under a boulder.
We were all cold and followed her down.
On the way back, we took the red trail back to the cars. We were amazed that we hiked about 10 miles in less than five hours. The combination of cold weather and a good road meant that we did the hike in record time, without feeling rushed.
A good winter hike!
A small step has been taken to save the Headwaters of the East Fork of the French Broad River. See a map of the area.
The Conservation Fund just announced the $5.5 million purchase of a privately-owned 786-acre tract that represents the last, unprotected section of the Foothills Trail, which winds along the border between North and South Carolina. The support of Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and a generous donation from Fred and Alice Stanback of Salisbury helped make this project possible.
By protecting this land for the State of North Carolina to ultimately purchase and manage, a corridor of conserved land will be established stretching more than nine miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, including key headwaters of the French Broad River. The property sits adjacent to the 43,000-acre Jocassee Gorges, acquired in 1999, through the Fund, by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
Preserving this property is the first phase of a potential multi-year, multi-phase effort that is contingent upon support from state and federal conservation funding programs to protect a magnificent 8,000-acre property known as the East Fork Headwaters Tract. The tract features pristine forests, waterfalls and bogs long prized by conservationists and currently owned by former Congressman Charles Taylor and his family. Protecting this entire expanse would ensure the land is publicly available for hunting, hiking and other outdoor pursuits accessible through the property’s 100 miles of trails. The Headwaters Hunting and Fishing Club currently leases the property and manages it for hunting.
“By protecting a key nine-mile stretch of Blue Ridge crest followed by the longest yet to be protected stretch of the 70-mile Foothills Trail, The Conservation Fund has focused this first phase where the general public will get the most immediate use and good,” said R. Michael Leonard, Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors for The Conservation Fund.
“The completion of this initial Headwater acquisition is an exciting first step that conserves some of the most significant features of the larger tract,” said Kieran Roe, Executive Director of the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy. “Due to the cooperation of the Taylor family and the generosity of public and private funders, a key link in the corridor of conservation along the Blue Ridge Escarpment is now permanently protected for the benefit of North and South Carolina.”
When you take children to a zoo or an amusement park, are you spoiling them for the real thing? Will they be interested in the wild? What happens when they then go to a park?
A couple of days ago, we took our grandchildren (and children) to the Miami Seaquarium.
We saw manatees, dolphins and the killer whale, really a dolphin. We were close to alligators and turtles, though they were protected by fences and walls.
Dolphins jumped up for fish and sealions did tricks for fishy goodies.
But what happens when you go to a park? Will the thrill be gone?
In a park, you have to walk, look for birds and animals and identify them. It's work compared to watching a dolphin show or have your picture taken with a seal.
Above the picture shows manatees just laying there. All their needs are taken care of. In the wild, they have to work for their food and we have to work to find them.
What do you think?